+ Bishop Colm O'Reilly - Knock 2009

On the 13th. September this year crowds will gather in Clonmacnois to celebrate the Annual Pattern Day. The Annual Pattern Day event has been happening for so long that no one can be sure just how old this tradition is.

In 2009 we are celebrating two significant moments in the history of this ancient and holy place. On the 14th. of September 1969 the Pattern Day Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new sanctuary which had been recently erected here. Then years later, thirty years ago now, the most distinguished visitor who ever came to Clonmacnois prayed in that same place. I refer, of course, to Pope John Paul II.

In his homily for Pattern Day Mass in 1969 Cardinal Daly, then Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, quoted words from a distinguished Irish scholar, Donnachadh ÓFloinn about Clonmacnois written just one year before. He began as follows : "Maynooth is now a hundred and seventy three years of age (This was in 1968); Clonmacnois survived six Maynooth lifetimes. When it was nearly three times as old as Maynooth is now, the Cross of Scriptures was erected. Another Maynooth lifetime passed and it was producing another work which still survives, the Book of the Dun Cow. (Clonmacnois) had passed its thousand years when Henry VIII suppressed it".

In the same article Father ÓFloinn went on to say : It would be, indeed, a great vanity were we to endeavour to restore those things which were the trappings and accidents of the old Irish world, while neglecting what was its soul and centre. The thing about the old Irish world which is most needful to revive is its holiness. Happily, this is the only restoration about which there is no uncertainty whatsoever, if only the young men and women of Ireland can be brought to believe in their destiny".

When Pope John Paul came to Ireland in 1979, we have no reason to believe, I think, that he would have been aware of these words of Father O'Floinn. However, Clonmacnois touched him in a way which would suggest that his vision and that of Father O'Floinn were very similar. After his return to Rome following his Irish visit he had the following to say : "The ruins of the monastery and of the churches speak of the life that once pulsated there. It is difficult to look on these ruins merely as a monument of the past; whole generations of Europe owe to them the light of the Gospel and the structural framework of their culture. These ruins are still charged with a great mission. They stillconstitute a challenge. Here is Ireland : at the heart of the perennial mission of the Church, which St. Patrick started".

Pilgrims who gather to celebrate the Pattern Day of 2009 are in a Clonmacnois which is significantly different from what it was forty or even thirty years ago. Over the years an immense amount of work has been done to ensure the preservation of these ancient churches and artistic monuments. Tens of thousands of visitors who come here in the summer season are introduced by competent guides to the magnificent history of Clonmacnois. In the comfort of the Visitors Centre they receive an introduction to Clonmacnois with images and words, words which are available in any one of five or six languages. The High Crosses suffering greatly in the past from acid rain and other forms of environmental damage are now safely on display in the Visitors' Centre. The manner in which the ancient churches of Clonmacnois has been expertly restored is admirable in every way.


And yet, and yet! All that has been achieved begs a question. How in fact are we responding to the questions posed by an Irish scholar and a Polish Pope? Father O'Floinn was moved by the sight of the ruins of Clonmacnois which he saw as an icon of the holiness of the people who studied, produced works of art and prayed here. Pope John Paul thought of the missionary history of Clonmacnois which contributed to the evangelisation of his own land and others of Central and Eastern Europe.

It seems to me that any visitor to Clonmacnois should hear in the first place that this is one of the holiest places in Ireland or indeed in Europe. Clonmacnois was one of the largest and longest occupied places of monastic life and prayer in all of Western Christendom.If this is forgotten, then the very heart of Clonmacnois has been overlooked. Above all Clonmacnois should not be seen as a reminder of an ancient past only. Clonmacnois is a place which challenges us as Christians. As Pope John Paul said in 1979 Clonmacnois is "charged with a great mission".


The narrow roads that lead to Clonmacnois from north and south convey the impression that the ancient monastery is located in a truly remote place. While this is so in terms of the present day road system in the midlands, quite the opposite was true in the heyday of the busy Celtic monastery. For it St Ciaran sought out the most accessible location in the heartland of Ireland in the 6th century. As a means of access the Shannon was the equivalent of a modern day motorway. The sandhills of the Esker Riada which stretch eastward from Clonmacnois and the level plains to the west completed a perfect setting, easy to access and beautiful to the eye where the river bends and lingers, as if it were reluctant to move on.


Can Clonmacnois, located as it is and given its unique history, be a symbol of renewal and reconciliation for our times? It was the place to which monarchs of high renown and humble and unknown people came in search of final peace and made long atonement. To the visitor of modern times this "quiet watered land" can still speak of a peace that is a welcome counterpoise to the agitation characteristic of our time. Clonmacnois can be a haven of peace for our generation as it was for our ancestors. It is my hope and prayer that nothing will prevent the Seven Churches, to use the title that the locals always bestow on Clonmacnois, from continuing to speak to the heart as it has done so well for so long.

Pattern Day celebrations begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, 13th. September 2009. The homilist at the Mass will be Fr. Caoimhín ÓLaoide, O.F.M.

Archived References  
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2010
Statement by Bishop Colm O'Reilly on the Dublin Report
Bishop Colm O'Reilly video interview for Mission Sunday 2009
Message on Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock 2009
Homily by Bishop Colm for Trinity Sunday, on 150 years of SVP in Longford.
Bishop Colm's Pastoral Letter Easter 2009
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2008
Bishop's Letter to the Diocese, Easter 2008, 'on the way forward'.
Bishop's Message for the Year of Vocation
Bishop's Homily at Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock, Sept 2007
Message from Bishop Colm on Ferns Report
Message from Bishop Colm on the death of Pope John Paul II
Homily by Bishop Colm at Requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II in St. Mel's Cathedral, 7th April
Statement from the Bishop, 27th May 2006
Homily at Clonmacnois Pattern Day, 2006
Bishop's Christmas Message 2005
Message from Bishop Colm for Vocations Sunday 2005